A 19th century French aristocrat, notorious for his scathing memoirs about life in Russia, travels through the Russian State Hermitage Museum and encounters historical figures from the last 200+ years.
Third part in Aleksandr Sokurov's quadrilogy of Power, following Moloch (1999) and Taurus (2001), focuses on Japanese Emperor Hirohito and Japan's defeat in World War II when he is finally confronted by General Douglas MacArthur who offers him to accept a diplomatic defeat for survival.
An unseen man regains consciousness, not knowing who or where he is. No one seems to be able to see him, except the mysterious man dressed in black. He eventually learns through their discussions that this man is a 19th century French aristocrat, who he coins the "European". This turn of events is unusual as the unseen man has a knowledge of the present day. The two quickly learn that they are in the Winter Palace of the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, the European who has a comprehensive knowledge of Russian history to his time. As the two travel through the palace and its grounds, they interact with people from various eras of Russian history, either through events that have happened at the palace or through the viewing of artifacts housed in the museum. Ultimately, the unseen man's desired journey is to move forward, with or without his European companion.Written by
When the Hermitage museum was told about the plans to shoot the film in one cut, they offered the director to close the museum for two days. Alexandr Sukhorukov rejected the offer as it had to be done in one single day. See more »
During the opening section of the film, in which the unseen narrator walks/glides through the backstage area of the opera that is being performed, there is a moment in which you can distinctly see the shadow of the boom operator following the camera. See more »
"Russian Ark" is an extraordinary docu-drama approach to bringing architectural history alive. It brings the "living history" approach of "Colonial Williamsburg" etc. to cinema.
It would have been enough that the director got extensive access to the Hermitage Museum in Petersburg to show it to us.
It would have been enough to have authentic costumes, choreography, and make-up for several centuries of Russian history. (I was reminded that my husband's grandmother was a young seamstress for rich folks like these, making this extravagant lifestyle possible.)
It would have been enough to have literally a cast of thousands because how else can one really know how those fantastic ballrooms and grand staircases were meant to be used and seen without a full orchestra and gowned and uniformed participants as far as the camera can see?
It would have been enough to come up with a cute gimmick of a time-traveling two-some to glide us through the rooms of the Hermitage to show the tsars, aristocrats, curators, and ordinary Russian tourists who have passed through over the years, with humorous commentary on Russia's changing relationship with Europe over these centuries as shown through the art and architecture of the building while wars and revolutions loomed outside.
But then, it would have been enough that it's all done in a single take over just an hour and a half with luscious cinematography.
There was a slow line to get in the theater so I missed the opening historical background, and I've learned most of my Russian (let alone European) history from novels and movies so I did get a bit lost here and there wandering the corridors of history, but the unseen narrator posits that this is all a dreamscape anyway.
I made a point of seeing this because a fellow cinephile who I frequently bump into at my local arthouse had directly called the distributor asking when it would be playing elsewhere and was told they can't afford to make more prints available so one can only see it at the Manhattan theaters -- so make a point to see it on a movie screen and not just wait for when the History Channel shows a reduced version.
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